Tags: cultural intermediary, online community, communication model, Instagram, social media campaign
Attempting to understand online communities is a daunting but essential mission, because nowadays, business, marketing and even the daily grinds of everyone are embracing Web 2.0. Benefiting from the cheap resources and services, user generated content and even user created content has sprung up like mushrooms (Hinton, S. & Hjorth, 2013).
Under this backdrop, communication within online community has changed. Community users reject top-down hierarchical model of communication (Hutchinson, 2012), while some scholars argued that peer production in user participation neglected the advantages of centralized communication (Kreiss et al., 2011).
Considering this paradox, one of the important key concepts to analyse the communication in the online community is cultural intermediary, which establishes an in-between blurring area connecting the institutions and their followers, and promotes a user-led model without changing decision-maker from the former to the latter (Hutchinson, 2013).
To put the theory into empirical research, this essay elaborates how cultural intermediation helps to reach and engage users in the Hello China social media project. Hello China is a virtual app teaching Chinese mandarin, now it has three promotion platforms, Instagram, Facebook Page and Tumblr. This essay mainly focuses on its Instagram followers, trying to figure out the communication mechanism within the online community.
Cultural intermediary and empirical exemplars
Pierre Bourdieu coined the term “cultural intermediaries” to describe the role that managed to market goods and service of “new petite bourgeosie”, a new social class, to potential consumers (Bourdieu, cited in Negus, 2002).
During the development of the theory, it has been applied to many kinds of culture and media contextual study (O’Brien, 2011), but if putting context back into the theory itself, Jennifer Maguire and Julian Mathews (2012) outlined three characteristics of cultural intermediary: framing products and values, expert-orientation, and the impact.
Besides, as Negus (2002) endorsed, the term drew attention to the workers in-between production and consumption. He developed it with examples concluding that cultural intermediaries endured the gap between the producers and their audience.
This was denied by Hutchinson (2013), who proved that the gap was bridged, within New Beginnings, an ABC Pool project.
To ground the cultural intermediary theory, for the first step, Hutchinson firstly identified the stakeholders, which were ABC Pool team, Pool participants and the ABC as an institution.
Then he demonstrated how the cultural intermediary located in the relationships with the stakeholders, and the core activities Williams (the project producer) who in this case, played the role of cultural intermediary, interacted with stakeholders and maximized the benefits for the three sides.
For example, Williams would align with ABC Pool team, to ensure the New Beginning’s documentary production. He would also go to the online community, in order to encourage users to contribute to the project and interact with ABC, the institution, to guarantee the project was proceeding normally.
The cultural intermediary in my campaign
@hellochina_chineselearning, an Instagram campaign promoting a Chinese learning app on multi-platforms was launched in late March. I was the community manager of the follower community.
It is worth pointing out that compared with other similar projects on Instagram, the most significant difference of @hellochina_chineselearning is the interaction between the institution and the audience. During the promotion, a call-out of an online campaign was embedded in daily posts.
“Tag @hellochina_chineselearning or hashtag #hellochina to get featured! Share your Chinese cultural moments with us!”
Receiving comments like “Thanks for featuring our picture!”(@unviajexchina, 15 April 2016) was riveting, but to get the first participant was not that easy. Hence, when I got a private message from user@keiskei_2, asking whether I could feature her post, I was just excited.
At that time, she was not a follower of @hellochina_chineselearning. Conversely, she was merely attracted by the campaign of sharing moments, which led her to act as a cultural intermediary between @hellochina_chineselearning and the audience.In light of the characteristics of cultural intermediary mentioned in the first part, @keiskei_2 filled the role of framing, expert-orientation and impacting.
As seen in the contribution, her photo fitted in “Chinese cultural moments” very well, meaning that @keiskei_2 had recognition towards “Chinese cultural moments”, though @hellochina_chineselearning did not provide a detailed example before. To some extent, she helped @hellochina_chineselearning to frame what “Chinese cultural moments” looks like and provided a wonderful feasible content to explain it.
Moreover, she was an expert in Chinese calligraphy, because the strokes of the Chinese characters in her arts followed the rules in Chinese calligraphy with soft start, hard transition and long end. She also showed high aesthetic level in her other posts.
As for the impact, she interacted with her friends who were learning Chinese mandarin, trying to influence them to be potential participants of this campaign.
How cultural intermediaries connecting @hellochina_chineselearning and follower community
According to how Hutchinson grounded cultural intermediary theory to the communication model, this part focuses on identifying stakeholders and their interests, and how the cultural intermediary negotiate interests of both sides.
In this case, there were two stakeholders, @hellochina_chineselearning and its follower community. @hellochina_chineselearning aimed to reach as many as users and to invite them to the online campaigns, so that the number of its followers could keep increasing. In addition, to stimulate new participation could contribute to high user viscosity, which would engage both new and old followers. With regards to the interest of the followers, as described in the production note, they indulged in learning Chinese and Chinese cultural symbols, such as Chinese cuisine, Chinese calligraphy, and traditional artworks.
On one hand, @keiskei_2 as a cultural intermediary, firstly sent a private message to @hellochina_chineselearning to verify whether her post content qualified in the campaign. From this perspective, she built a connection with the administration team.
On the other hand, she was active to engage more participants for the campaign by herself. Compared with the call-out from @hellochina_chineselearning daily posts, her effort displayed at a flat level, which was same to the other users.
Therefore, this action tightened the relation between the users and the campaign. In so doing, @keiskei_2 maintained the focus of @hellochina_chineselearning, the institution, and encouraged a user-led participation.
With the development of Web 2.0, the voice of advocating UGC and decentralized communication has been more and more popular. However, as a community manager of online community, one might not give up the focus position of communication. In this situation, cultural intermediaries should be introduced into the communication, because it will blur the edge of institution and audience.
This essay briefly recalls the history and the empirical evidence of the term “cultural intermediary”, and applies the theory to an Instagram campaign “Chinese cultural moments” run by @hellochina_chineselearning, verifying that cultural intermediary actually establishes a bridge between production and consumption.
(Posted by Yang Liu, 1246 words)
Hinton, S. & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding Social Media. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Hutchinson, J. (2012, January 19). Online communities reject authority in favour of self-governance Retrieved from http://openforum.com.au/content/online-communities-reject-authority-favour-self-governance
Hutchinson, J. (2013). Communication models of institutional online communities: the role of the ABC cultural intermediary. Platform, 5(1), 75-85.
Kreiss, D., Finn, M. & Turner, F. (2011). The limits of peer production: Some reminders from Max Weber for the network society. New Media & Society, 13, 243-259.
Maguire, J. S., & Matthews, J. (2012). Are we all cultural intermediaries now? An introduction to cultural intermediaries in context. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 15(5), 551-562.
Negus, K. (2002). The Work of Cultural Intermediaries and the Enduring Distance between Production and Consumption. Cultural Studies, 16 (4), 501-515.
O’Brien, D., K. Wilson., & P. Campbell. (2011, April). The role of cultural intermediaries Retrieved from http://dl.dropbox.com/u/16522669/Apr%202011%20Cultural%20Intermediaries.pdf.